Theo Hernandez, Jesus Vallejo tipped to break out for Real Madrid

This time last year, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, preparing for the new season in the United States, was unsure what to do with a young attacker who had just returned to the club following a season on loan at Espanyol.

Marco Asensio made such an impression on Zidane that he started last August's European Supercup against Sevilla, marking his competitive Madrid debut with a spectacular long-range strike. By the end of the season, Asensio (still just 21 years old) was a key member of the squad and added the final goal from the bench in the Champions League final win over Juventus.

In Asensio's place this year stand a number of other ambitious youngsters aiming to prove themselves. Will these six players get the chance to show Zidane what they have to offer?

1. Theo Hernandez, left-back

The only high-profile youngster to play in Sunday's ICC game against United at the Levi's Stadium was Madrid's new €30 million signing from Atletico Madrid, Theo Hernandez. The former Atletico Madrid left-back had a very eventful debut, winning the penalty that brought Madrid's only goal with a characteristically direct burst forward, then missing in the shootout as United won.

Although just 19, Theo is already well-practiced at attracting attention. His superb 2016-17 season on loan at Alaves meant Madrid apparently had to see off Barcelona, City and Bayern Munich to get him. Although his move across the city angered pretty much everyone at his former club, he took it in stride. He was born in Marseille and has played for France at various under-age levels, but he is also reportedly considering making a switch to represent Spain at senior international level. In short, he isn't a player who will back down from a challenge.

Marcelo remains the club's firm first choice for the new season, but Theo already looks a more than capable backup with his athleticism and directness going forward. His impetuousness in the tackle and positional awareness remain concerns, but he is clearly a young man going places quickly.

2. Dani Ceballos, midfield playmaker

Madrid moved quickly to sign Dani Ceballos for around €17 million earlier this month, again seeing off Barca's interest to secure the Player of the Tournament at the summer's European Under-21 championships.

Despite his young age, Ceballos has already played 105 senior games for Real Betis across Spain's Primera and Segunda Divisions, scoring seven goals and recording nine assists. He developed quickly last season, showing impressive maturity and leadership during a difficult time for his team. He also stood up well when visiting the Bernabeu and Calderon, even scoring against Barca late in the campaign.

Although the Andalusian midfielder is (indirectly) taking James Rodriguez's place in Zidane's squad, his mix of short- and long-range passing makes him a more suitable stand-in for creative midfielders such as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Modric turns 32 in September and will need to be rested regularly in the new campaign. This should offer plenty of opportunities for Ceballos to continue his rapid progress.

3. Jesus Vallejo, centre-back

The only one of Madrid's youngsters returning from loan this summer to get his own official presentation at the Bernabeu was Jesus Vallejo. At that event, Blancos president Florentino Perez pointed to the 20-year-old defender as a clear example of the club's recent focus on identifying the best young talent and bringing it through.

Vallejo joined Madrid from Real Zaragoza in a €5 million deal back in 2015, spent the following season back at his hometown club and then hugely impressed during another loan spell at Eintracht Frankfurt in 2016-17. "I've never seen a player like [Vallejo], neither as a player or as a coach," Frankfurt coach and former Croatia international Niko Kovac said last October. "This kid is scandalously good."

Frankfurt wanted him for another year, and there was interest from other La Liga clubs, but Madrid saw him as ready to take Pepe's place as one of the club's four senior centre-backs. With club captain Sergio Ramos delayed by an ear problem in preseason, the super fast and technically excellent Vallejo will get chances to repay that faith in the coming weeks.

4. Borja Mayoral, centre-forward

The potential Zidane sees in Mayoral was clear just weeks after the French legend took over as Madrid's first-team coach in January 2016. Just 18 at the time, the home-grown centre-forward was promoted immediately from the Castilla setup and given half a La Liga derbi against Atletico.

From there, Mayoral's progress seemed to stall last season as he faded completely out of the picture at Wolfsburg, ending up with just two goals from a total of 374 Bundesliga minutes. More positive for the burly centre-forward on his return to Madrid was Alvaro Morata's exit to Chelsea; Mayoral has even inherited his fellow Madrileno's No. 21 shirt.

Yet Morata's experience should show him just how hard it is to break into the Blancos' setup when you are a forward. Kylian Mbappe's likely arrival, either this summer or next, would make things even more challenging again.

For now at least, Mayoral (now 20) should feature against big teams such as Man City and Barcelona in ICC action. A few goals in preseason could make Zidane remember just why he rated him so highly before.

5. Marcos Llorente, holding midfield

Marcos Llorente is Bernabeu royalty, with his father and grandfather both having played for the club while great-uncle Paco Gento is a six-time European Cup winner. The latest Llorente has long generated expectation among Blancos fans and pundits, and the 22-year-old showed during his season on loan at Alaves that he is ready for the big time.

An intelligent reader of the game, incisive passer and willing tackler, Llorente is a natural in the "holding" role. Although not as physical as Real's current anchorman, Casemiro, Llorente is better in possession and looks like the long-term successor to Barcelona's Sergio Busquets in this key role for the Spain national team.

For the moment, though, it might be Mateo Kovacic more than Casemiro who is threatened by the emergence of Llorente (and even Ceballos). It will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks how Zidane deals with what looks an "overbooking" of options in central areas.

6. Achraf Hakimi

Following the summer reshuffle, Madrid's squad appears to have at least two options for every position on the pitch ... except at right-back. But few Blancos fans or pundits lamented the €30 million sale of Danilo to Manchester City as 18-year-old Achraf Hakimi already looks like a potentially exciting backup to first-choice Dani Carvajal.

Achraf was one of the kids who impressed hugely against United last weekend, breaking forward time and again and seriously worrying Netherlands international Daley Blind. That provoked speculation as to whether a proposed loan to Alaves should be cancelled to keep the already senior Morocco international close at hand.

An attacker earlier in his time at Madrid's La Fabrica youth setup, Achraf is possibly a bit too raw to rely on defensively in big games yet. But Zidane is a big fan, and the opportunity is there.